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Getting through to the Stroger 9

Monday, November 26, 2007
Chicago Tribune
Editorial

"[T]oday we are brought together by a shared goal -- and for me, a solemn oath -- to reshape our county government, and to have the courage and resolve to make bold changes. ... We will transform this government into a more modern, more efficient operation."

-- Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's inaugural address, Dec. 4, 2006

When Todd Stroger dreams about raising nearly $900 million a year in new revenues for his maddeningly wasteful government, two facts have to make him happy:
First, this is the holiday season, when local governments often get away with unpopular outrages because some citizens are too busy to protest loudly.

Second, Stroger knows that -- unless pressure from voters changes one or two minds -- soon -- he probably can pass big tax increases. Nine of the 17 County Board members have told the Tribune in recent weeks that they think Stroger's government needs more revenue from taxes.

These Stroger 9 aren't yet in perfect lock step. Roberto Maldonado, for example, opposes Stroger's proposed 2-percentage-point sales tax increase. Maldonado instead wants five other taxes initiated or raised. But Stroger's people are lobbying the board members relentlessly. They may yet tailor their grabby tax schemes, or promise juicy favors, to seduce Maldonado and Earlean Collins, a commissioner who is notoriously wishy-washy in tax debates.

So, as debate intensifies on a budget for the fiscal year that starts Saturday, the lineups:

Eight board members think, correctly, that Cook County already collects enough in taxes. They're upset that Stroger broke that "solemn oath." Just as he broke his oath to have a summit of civic and business leaders streamline his government. Just as he's breaking his oath to cut the county payroll to 22,000 employees: Stroger's budget books would add 1,130 jobs.

The eight board members who don't want to reward Todd Stroger with more tax dollars for his year of living obliviously: Democrats Forrest Claypool, Michael Quigley and Larry Suffredin, and Republicans Elizabeth Doody Gorman, Gregg Goslin, Tony Peraica, Tim Schneider and Peter Silvestri. Good for them.

The nine Democrats inclined to give Stroger more tax dollars surely would welcome guidance from the citizens who pay their salaries.

Here's who they are and how to reach them:

* William Beavers, South Side and south suburbs: 312-603-2067 and 773-731-1515, wbeavers @cookcountygov.com. In his response to a 2006 Tribune editorial board questionnaire that asked about cost reductions versus tax increases, Beavers wrote in part: "As chairman of the [Chicago] City Council Committee on Budget and Government Operations, I have a record of supporting budgets that address revenue shortfalls through the reduction of costs in government. I will continue to advocate for such budgets if elected as a county commissioner. ... We need to continue to make progress in employee head count through greater efficiencies."

* Jerry "Iceman" Butler, Near South Side, south suburbs: 312-603-6391, jbutler@cook countygov.com. Butler in his written response: "We are constantly looking for ways to reduce payroll. ..."

* Earlean Collins, West Side, west suburbs: 312-603-4566 and 773-626-2184, ecollins@cookcountygov.com. She may be the deciding vote on whether to raise county taxes.

* John Daley, South and Southwest Sides, southwest suburbs: 312-603-4400, jdaley@ cookcountygov.com. Last year Daley said in his response to the Tribune: "Taxes should be raised only as a last resort and not before savings measures are implemented through consolidation and efficiency gains. ..."

* Roberto Maldonado, North and Northwest Sides: 312-603-6386 and 773-395-0143, rmaldonado@cookcountygov.com. Like Collins, he could be the deciding vote on tax increases.

* Joseph Mario Moreno, Southwest Side, Cicero: 312-603-5443 and 773-927-7154, jmoreno@ cookcountygov.com.

* Joan Patricia Murphy, south suburbs: 312-603-4216 and 708-389-2125, jmurphy@cook countygov.com. The essence of Murphy's response in 2006: "I do not favor decreasing the workforce if it limits the services the County provides. ... I do not favor raising taxes. ..."

* Deborah Sims, South Side, south suburbs: 312-603-6381 and 708-371-4251, dsims@cook countygov.com.

* Robert Steele, Near North, Near West and Near South Sides: 312-603-3019 and 773-722-0140, rsteele@cookcountygov.com.

And of course there's Stroger, who said when he proposed his budget that he wasn't hearing from citizens upset by his plans to raise taxes:

* Todd Stroger's telephone numbers are 312-603-6400 and 312-603-5500. His e-mail addresses are thstroger@cookcountygov.com and officeof thepresident@cookcountygov.com.

Call one, call them all.

If the Stroger 9 do vote for taxation instead of cutting bureaucracy, Stroger then will be free to add whatever he wishes -- in higher operating costs, capital improvements, and new beneficiaries of his Friends and Family Hiring Plan.

If he falls short of nine votes, Stroger can slice the new growth from his budget -- and use 2008 to do what he promised to do but didn't in 2007: deliver the County Board and state legislation necessary to consolidate, streamline and downsize his money-mad government.

This much is sure: Unless taxpayers get through to the Stroger 9, Stroger can stop paying even lip service to solemn oaths of reform.



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